I made the decision last year to renew my membership in RWA last March when it came up for renewal because I had made commitments to the two chapters I was a member of. They would have survived if I had left, but I decided to see them through, although I did think long and hard about what it would take for me to leave.
I had a couple of thoughts about what would happen after.
completed the board service role I was in, and notified my other chapter that I was going to step down as contest chair. And I confess, based on the proposed award schedule, I realized that if I stayed as a member, I would be up for renewal right around the time they announced the new award nominees and would be in a position to say something if something needed to be said.
It's a fair assumption that the pandemic has meant the idea of not paying for three (one national and two chapter) memberships didn't hurt my decision. Overall, while I haven't agreed with every step the board has taken over the past year, I think they are doing things to make sure that RWA is still around for folks for more than just the next year, and that requires decisions not everyone is going to like. They have also worked to implement several programs that I think are useful and interesting to new and mid-career writers.
So, lots of lead up to say, that the finalists were announced. There are some great books on that list. And there is at least one about a protagonist who participated in a genocide finding love.
Full disclosure, I have already shared my thoughts, in far more detail, than I will here, with the RWA board. I am aware that the way the RWA awards are set up means that the rules cannot be altered or changed until the award cycle completed. So I sent my thoughts so that I could be on record ahead of my membership lapsing, but am aware that this is something they cannot discuss until July. (Do I think that in and of itself creates problems for RWA? Yes, I do.)
I am aware that racism and bigotry exist in our larger society and RWA cannot fix this. It is not RWA's job to fix this. However, it is my personal opinion that the current awards process requires an incredible amount of free labor from members and other volunteers. I heard from participants this year that they got eight books to read. I read eight books and have read eight books in a similar time period, but reading eight books for a deadline is different. Reading eight books you didn't select for yourself is different. It's a lot.
The current setup has three rounds - and initial round where only a partial is read, and the second and third rounds where the full book is read.
Having run a contest I can also tell you that there's a lot of work that goes into finding people to read for all your rounds, gathering up all the documents, figuring out how to assign them so that everyone gets read by people in the correct categories, to say nothing of the person who inevitably tells you after all the assignments are sent out that they don't want to read X, and now you have to find backup judges.
Other organizations use either a small committee that commits to a ton of reading to create their initial finalist list, or a voting submission process. These options are not equal amounts of work, but they allocate the work differently.
Because let's be really honest here, the current process is a lot of work, and it is not providing RWA with a better quality of finalist than other methodologies. We have basically proven that many, many, times now. I love some books that have been nominated this year. I love some books that were nominated under the prior but not distinctly different process and even some that won. I am not saying that some of the finalists and winners over the years aren't great books.
But here's what I also know to have finaled and in some cases have won:
-A book with a Nazi protagonist
-A book where one protagonist dies at the end. (Not to be confused with undead.)
-A book with a protagonist who helped slaughter native Americans
I'm sure there's more to it than that. I certainly haven't read every nominee.
I love awards ceremonies. It's really fun to watch people dress up and take home shiny statues. Writing is a hard and often solitary job, and finding a moment of recognition in it is amazing.
But RWA cannot take credit for the good books that are nominated, and ignore the problematic books that are nominated. I know it's easy to critique other's work. I know the board won't get to really dive in on this until July and I don't envy them that task. But right now this process requires a lot of labor, and isn't really getting us to better results. So I hope they take the opportunity to make bold change with it.